It has been a relatively busy November for small bank M&A after a late-summer slump in deal activity.

There have been deals for seven bank franchises in the first half of the month after nine deals in all of October, according to data from Bloomberg and SNL Financial.

Almost all of the activity this month has involved small, closely held banks being sold to much bigger players anxious to use excess cash and scale up at a bargain.

Two deals matching that MO were announced Wednesday: the $3.8 billion Home Bancshares Inc. of Conway, Ark. agreed to buy the 17-branch Vision Bank from Park National Corp. for about $28 million. The $5.5 billion-asset NBT Bancorp Inc. in Norwich, N.Y., agreed to pay about $45 million in cash and stock for Hampshire First Bank, a four-branch lender in Manchester, N.H., with about $273 million of assets.

Dealmakers say the pressures of rising costs and falling margins are forcing small and midsize banks to overcome their economic jitters about doing deals. Buyers have also been managing to strike deals that essentially let them cherry-pick only the best assets a seller has to offer.

"Just in the last month we are starting to see a bit of a resurgence" in small bank M&A, Jerry Wiant, managing director and co-head of RBC Capital Markets' financial institutions group, said Wednesday at a conference in New York sponsored by Mergermarket Inc.

Small banks are finding it tougher to go it alone, and banks around $5 billion of assets need to bulk up to generate decent returns in a no-growth environment.

"They really need to get bigger and get bigger quickly," Wiant said. "It really is a scale game."

The recent plunge in the equity markets stymied an already slow year for bank M&A: There were 113 deals announced in the first nine months of the year, or 9% fewer than over the same time period in 2010, according to data from SNL Financial and Sheshunoff & Co. The last few weeks show acquisition-hungry banks pursuing deals that will not be derailed by swings in the stock market. That means small deals for private banks or banks with only lightly traded shares paid for at least in part with cash.

Carve-outs are becoming more popular, too. Buyers like that structure because they do not have to acquire loans they do not want. Sellers like it because they can raise a lot of cash.

Park National expects its sale of Vision to result in a capital-boosting gain of $10 million to $12 million. There have been three other carve-out deals this month that involved a parent company spinning off most of its bank franchise.

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